6 key Rules to Expand Your B2B Marketing Influence

Marketing Influence NetworkingMarketing influence is a timeless subject but the ways we capture and communicate are constantly evolving. I originally wrote about this subject in 2011 and updated the material for my 2015 book, Winning B2B Marketing . And whether you are a one-person consulting shop, work for a mega corporation, or anything in between, you need to constantly expand your Circle of Marketing Influence.

Starting with your organization at the core, everyone that you can possibly do business with can be pinpointed somewhere in relation to the center.  As those individuals in the outer reaches of our marketing influence are brought closer, they become part of your inner circle. Those nearest to the core are friends, former colleagues, loyal customers, prospects in an active sales cycle and others you have direct influence on. Those farthest away comprise your total addressable market (TAM) but many or most of them may not even know that you exist.

Traditional lead-to-revenue (L2R) models track this movement through the marketing and sales sequence using terminology such as suspects, leads, qualified prospects, opportunities and customers. The idea is to locate individual suspects in the larger universe (TAM) and convince them to engage and then make a purchase. By contrast, in today’s pull marketing world, the idea is to broadcast powerful and consistent messages to the cyber universe and give people good reasons to engage with you. The key point is that prospects choose to engage with you – you do not have to chase after them. And they are much more likely to engage if they are already in your sphere of influence.

Over time, the inner- and middle circles grow as people become closer to you. Because you are providing the right message at the right time, people are educating themselves and they willingly engage – not because of the persistence and brilliance of your sales people and you pushing yourself on them, but rather because they actually need your products or services and are searching for a solution. The complexity of the sales process decreases, the sales cycle shrinks and your close rate goes up. This is what we call a winning trifecta!

Let’s take a look at how the circle of influence relates to your business.  The Inner circle is comprised of your key influence group including employees, partners, customers, active prospects, personal contacts, and blog contributors. The Middle circle is the moderate influence group and includes contact lists, blog readers, suspects, social media followers, group members (e.g. LinkedIn), affiliates, industry experts, press, and analysts. The Outer circle is the low influence group and includes your potential prospect universe/TAM including email lists, direct marketing lists, occasional blog readers, media readers, and suspects.

The Starting Point: Where you are today Marketing Influence Before

This first graphic shows where you may be in your current evolution as a company or individual, particularly if you are in a fairly new business. Sadly, even some older companies have a small circle of marketing influence. In this case, the size of your inner circle and contact lists are small in relation to the entire prospect universe (total addressable market). And it is also true that marketing is usually more expensive at this stage (relatively speaking) because you often have to spend marketing funds to first educate suspects before turning them into prospects. In fact, even though your goal is to build a strong push model, it may be necessary to do a fair amount of push marketing at this stage.

The End Game: Where you are going

Marketing Influence AfterThis second graphic illustrates the impact of how your consistent marketing and targeted outreach efforts will help you grow the number of key influencers and moderate influencers. Over time, these parts of the circle of influence will become a rich source of low-cost qualified prospects and customers. Also important to your fiscal health – your marketing campaigns can evolve from push marketing to pull marketing and you will generate leads and new customers at a much lower acquisition cost. In our practice we’ve seen the impact of building up the marketing influence database as it results in a two-third reduction in cost-per-lead over a two year period.

Rules for Expanding Your Circle of Influence

We’ve talked about the why, let’s now discuss the how. Follow these six rules to expand your marketing influence.

  1. Be intentional.  Amazing how I meet someone who has 300 LinkedIn contacts and they tell me their goal is to expand their network to produce better results. My advice to that person is to start today and add relevant connections throughout the year, with a goal of 500 connections (adding one per business day). A year later, I look at their profile and they have 320 connections. I call these accidental connections because a few people will connect even if you take no action.
  2. Be methodical. Expanding your circle of influence takes time and a bit of work, but not so much time or effort if you spread the effort out. To start, block 2-3 hours per week on your calendar to devote exclusively to social media and network building. The investment will take a bit of time to pay off, but it will pay off.
  3. Be available. Don’t ignore your network and then scramble to catch up when you need something. We all have those people in our lives who only reach out when they want something (job, reference, etc.) but are otherwise silent.
  4. Be valuable. If you have content to share, make sure it’s the good stuff not just a rehash of what everyone else is offering. Not to say that you need to give away your trade secrets but it is usually better to offer something unique.
  5. Be generous. Following up on the previous rule, you should willingly share information, references, comments, compliments, congratulations and so forth. You are planting seeds for the future.  Just like with real seeds, some will produce fruit and some will fall on barren ground. The point is that you have no idea which seeds are which – so do not try to be Machiavellian about your networking. If you are available and add value to enough people, you will gain in return. That’s the way life works, both at home and the office.
  6. Be realistic. Good networking is about quality of communication but it is also about quantity. If you wait until the perfect opportunity to reach out, you may have to wait a long time. The point is to communicate often enough to remain top of mind (without being annoying).

The Circle of Marketing Influence is an excellent way to remember that your mission in B2B marketing is to continually expand the number of people who know what you do and why you are the obvious choice in your market.

Porter Gale wrote a book titled “Your network is Your Net Worth”.The title really says it all.  Build your network, expand your influence and reap the benefits.

B2B Social Media: To Connect or Not to Connect

Social Media Networking

 

Friends and colleagues occasionally ask me if they should accept the various connection requests from social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. This usually leads to a lively discussion since most business people are faced with this issue on a regular basis.

 

On one end of the continuum are those that are of the opinion that all social media connection requests should be honored. An example of this type of person is a LinkedIn LION (LinkedIn Open Networker) who basically says that they will accept a connection from anyone, anywhere, regardless of whether that person has had any prior contact. Likewise, a person who encourages you to friend them on Facebook just because they follow you on Twitter fits this open networking mold. Think of these people as highly responsive networkers.

At the other end of the continuum are those who believe they should not connect with anyone they don’t know personally and with whom they have not had a prior relationship (business or personal).  These are the individuals who seldom send their own connection requests and who ponder long and hard before accepting your request. Think of these people as reluctant networkers.

So who is right, the responsive or reluctant networking crowd? For most of us, the answer is usually somewhere in between and depends on the answers to these questions:

  • Are you in a business that depends on networking? The model for our business, Fusion Marketing Partners, is pull marketing. We don’t spend money on advertising and we don’t pursue prospects with a sales strategy. Rather, we publish lots of content about B2B marketing and spread the word through social media. Obviously, this strategy is predicated on connecting with lots of individuals and companies. By contrast, my wife is in a profession where networking is not particularly helpful, so she chooses not to spend her time on social media.
  • Do you mind having a public persona?  Lots of connections means that your public profile is spread far and wide. Are you okay with lots of people knowing about your business activities or would you prefer to keep a low profile (pun intended)?
  • Are you responsible?  Reputations are made and broken online and the more followers and connections you have, the more difficult it can be to hide any negative aspects of your business life.  For example, if you and I are both connected to John Smith, it is very easy for me to call John and get the confidential scoop on your business competence and personal ethics.
  • Are you active in social media? The point of social media networking is to support the rest of your marketing and sales by driving awareness, leads, and revenue. Your contacts need to see what you are up to on a regular basis, and this is difficult to do unless you commit to some level of reasonable social media activity.

My decision process for LinkedIn is that I will accept invitations from quality individuals even if I have had no prior contact with that person. On Twitter, I let anyone follow me but will ban those who prove to be shady or overly promotional. On Facebook, I only accept requests from friends or close business colleagues.

Having a larger network exposes you to more potential prospects, partners, employees, friends, etc.  To put this another way, the size of your social media network can definitely go a long way towards shaping the size of your net worth.

Five Ways You Can Get Big Value from LinkedIn

I talk about social media quite a bit in my blog posts, articles and conference presentations.  Social media is a key component of a viable pull marketing mix, and should be part of most companies’ go-to-market strategy.LinkedIn Marketing

But like everything else in life, there is always a first among equals.  And the first and most important social media tool for B2B marketers is LinkedIn marketing. Our team at Fusion Marketing Partners has used LinkedIn to drive business and partnerships for ourselves and our clients.  I use LinkedIn myself at least 3-4 days per week and have seen amazing results. In fact, LinkedIn has so many productive uses that I found it tough to narrow the list.

  1. Drive Revenue – We owe several of our client relationships (in full or a large part) to their relationship with us on LinkedIn.  Jill Konrath (author of SNAP Selling)  has done extensive research in this area and reports that top-earning sales reps use LinkedIn far more than their peers.
  2. Become Better Known – Assuming you post interesting thoughts/content, some of your musings will be shared or commented upon by your contacts.  You might even go viral.  This enhanced exposure can only help you when it comes to boosting the levels of marketplace exposure.
  3. Establish Brand Authority – The best way to use LinkedIn to establish a brand authority is to consistently post updates that reinforce your area of expertise and differentiation.  For example, you can share your blog posts, articles, white papers, etc., plus comment and share others’ updates that are related to your key messages.
  4. Keep in Touch – LinkedIn is a great platform to let your business contacts know what you are up to without one-to-one communication.  Not that you shouldn’t reach out personally as often as possible, but this is difficult if you have a large number of connections. It is not unusual to hear someone I haven’t talked to in many years tell me that they are following the my progress (and my company’s) on LinkedIn.
  5. Stay Top of Mind – I wrote a recent blog post titled Market Awareness Trumps Sales Skills.  The premise (reality) is that being known is often more important than sales acumen when it comes to driving revenue. Top of mind awareness (TOMA) is so important that Wikipedia actually has a definition: “The first brand that comes to mind when a customer is asked an unprompted question about a category.”  When the user of your product or service is researching or evaluating purchase options, you want to be the company name that pops into his/her mind. This market awareness factor is a big advantage for large companies, and as a smaller firm, you need to keep your name in front of prospects to overcome this challenge.  LinkedIn marketing is a great way to accomplish this.

By the way, one of the most prominent and insightful practitioners of social media, and specifically LinkedIn marketing, is Kevin Knebl.   If you want to learn from the best, visit Kevin’s website and blog.